Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Windows user’s guide to Linux

Don’t know your DEB from your RPM? We offer a short guide to Linux for the Windows user.

If you pay any attention to IT at all you’ll have heard of Linux.

[Linux refers to the family of Unix-like computer operating systems using the Linux kernel. Linux can be installed on a wide variety of computer hardware, ranging from mobile phones, tablet computers, routers and video game consoles, to desktop computers, mainframes and supercomputers. Linux is a leading server operating system, and runs the 10 fastest supercomputers in the world.

The development of Linux is one of the most prominent examples of free and open source software collaboration; typically all the underlying source code can be used, freely modified, and redistributed, both commercially and non-commercially, by anyone under licenses such as the GNU General Public License. Typically Linux is packaged in a format known as a Linux distribution for desktop and server use. Some popular mainstream Linux distributions include Debian (and its derivatives such as Ubuntu), Fedora and openSUSE. Linux distributions include the Linux kernel, supporting utilities and libraries and usually a large amount of application software to fulfill the distribution's intended use. ]

You’ll probably also have heard from the some that Linux is complicated, ugly and incomplete. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, Linux is now a full-fledged member of the operating system club and can do just about anything that any other OS can do and, in many cases, do a lot more than many other OSes can do.

So, if you’ve ever considered giving Linux a try then now is the time. Here are a few tips to get you smoothly onto the Linux road.


This is your first step. Linux is not homogeneous like Windows or OS X. Linux comes in a range of different versions, called “distributions”. The majority of the underlying code in each of these distributions is the same with most of the differences being in the interface and some of the management tools. Choosing the right distribution can be tricky, especially as there are literally hundreds of versions of Linux available. Fortunately most of those you can forget about, for now. What you need is an easy to use version of Linux, which leaves you with a short-list of Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse, Mandriva and Linux Mint. Picking one of these will make you life easier as they are all easy to install and pretty simple to maintain.

Desktop Environment

Again, unlike Windows or Mac OS X,

[ Microsoft Windows is a series of operating systems produced by Microsoft. Microsoft introduced an operating environment named Windows on November 20, 1985 as an add-on to MS-DOS in response to the growing interest in graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Microsoft Windows came to dominate the world's personal computer market, overtaking Mac OS, which had been introduced in 1984. As of October 2009, Windows had approximately 90% of the market share of the client operating systems for usage on the Internet. The most recent client version of Windows is Windows 7; the most recent server version is Windows Server 2008 R2; the most recent mobile version is Windows Phone 7.]

[Mac OS X is a series of Unix-based operating systems and graphical user interfaces developed, marketed, and sold by Apple Inc. Since 2002, Mac OS X has been included with all new Macintosh computer systems. It is the successor to Mac OS 9, released in 1999, the final release of the "classic" Mac OS, which had been Apple's primary operating system since 1984.
Mac OS X, whose X is the Roman numeral for 10 and is a prominent part of its brand identity, is a Unix-based graphical operating system,[8] built on technologies developed at NeXT between the second half of the 1980s and Apple's purchase of the company in late 1996. From its sixth release, Mac OS X v10.5 "Leopard" and onward, every release of Mac OS X gained UNIX 03 certification while running on Intel processors.]

Linux is not limited to just one desktop interface. There are dozens of different interfaces available, each with their own unique capabilities and drawbacks. Much like choosing a distribution, most of them can be ignored, for now. Whichever distribution you choose to install will include its own default desktop interface. In most cases it will be either KDE or Gnome. In Ubuntu’s case it will be its own Unity. The beauty in this process is that if you don’t like the interface you have then you can easily swap to another one.


This is worth mentioning because one of the great contributions of Linux to the world is the idea of LiveCDs. Most versions of Linux have a LiveCD available which can be downloaded and used to test the OS before installing. Some even run from a USB drive which makes it even easier. With a LiveCD the entire OS is run from the CD without touching your hard drive and is a great way to test if you like the OS before installing it. In most cases the LiveCD doubles as the installer as well.


Linux applications are shipped in various formats. What’s important to remember here is that not all packaged applications will install on every version of Linux. Sounds complicated but it’s not really that difficult, especially as now most Linux versions have their own repositories which contain all the applications in the right format for that distribution. You may occasionally come across applications on the internet that you want to install and then you’ll have to choose the right version to download. Ubuntu, for example, uses .deb files which is among the most popular of the formats. Fedora on the other hand uses RPM. Fortunately all major distributions include an application manager that worries about all of this for you.

Windows applications

Perhaps the biggest challenge when moving to Linux is getting used to living without your Windows applications. Fortunately there are multiple ways around this. The easiest way is to install Linux alongside your Windows installation. This dual-boot approach means you can switch between Windows and Linux when you need to. The downside is that you have to log-off one OS to use the other. The other approach is to install something like VirtualBox which is a fantastic piece of virtualisation software. Using VBox you can install a copy of Windows, or Linux, on top of your main OS. You can then simply open your VBox window when you want to use your second OS without needing to log off the first. The downside is that it’s not entirely painless to get the two working in harmony but it’s also not impossible. The third option is to investigate Wine. Wine is a Windows compatibility layer that makes it possible to run many Windows applications directly on Linux. Not all applications are supported but most major ones are.


Although there are many ways to mimic Windows on Linux it does sort of defeat the point of trying Linux in the first place. Especially as there are many fantastic native Linux applications already available. The Linux Alternative project is just one of many lists of applications for Linux that can be use to replace Windows ones. Applications such as, Gimp and Inkscape are not only suitable alternatives to many Windows applications but in some cases are even better that the originals.

With Linux improving at a rapid rate it’s now easier than ever to use, so there is no better time to give Linux a try.

10 Secure Linux Distributions You Need Know About

With security constantly in the news lately, you can't help but feel ill at ease and vulnerable -- vulnerable to teams of hackers whose only motivations are to expose and attack their victims. Perhaps you think you've done due diligence by keeping your patches updated, installing security fixes, and maintaining a corporate firewall. Those methods are effective about 50 percent of the time. For the other 50 percent, you need to do more. You need penetration testing, security audits, intrusion prevention and intrusion detection, and you need to plug security holes that only hackers know about by using the tools they use to compromise your systems.

Security is expensive no matter how you slice it but it doesn't have to be a death knell for your business. This list of 10, in no particular order, security-enhanced Linux distributions can give you peace of mind by beating hackers on their turf.

1. Astaro Security Appliance - Formerly known as Astaro Security Linux, the Astaro Security Appliances come in three flavors: Hardware, software and virtual. In the virtual appliance category, Astaro offers appliances built specifically for network security, mail security, Web security and Web application security. Its virtual appliances hold the VMware Ready certfication.

2. The network security virtual appliance, for example, includes a configurable firewall, intrusion protection, DoS attack protection, NAT tools, VPN, IPSec Remote Access, LDAP authentication integration, and bandwidth control. Sophos recently acquired Astaro to create one of the world's leading security companies. Sophos boasts over 100 million worldwide business users in more than 150 countries.

3. BackTrack Linux - BackTrack Linux is the highest rated and most acclaimed Linux security distribution. BackTrack is not a business desktop or server system but is a security-oriented system built solely for the purpose of network and computer penetration testing. BackTrack can be run from a bootable DVD, a thumbdrive or a hard disk. BackTrack Linux is a specialized distribution created to assist security professionals in performing security audits on target networks. But, with BackTrack Linux, you don't have to be a seasoned security professional to use it -- even security newcomers will find BackTrack easy to setup, use, and update. You can download BackTrack as an ISO image or as a VMware virtual machine.

4. IPFire - IPFire is a firewall distribution that is small, highly secure and easy to use. IPFire developers and maintainers are experienced security professionals. Like BackTrack, IPFire enjoys widespread adoption and an active user community. IPFire has its own special packaging system called Pakfire. The Pakfire system is unique to IPFire and delivers all updates and new packages via encrypted transfer and digital signatures. IPFire also features easy addon installation. Addons include Samba, NFS, mail services, anti-virus, multimedia applications, VoIP applications, intrusion detection, network tools, security tools, backup tools and dozens of other applications.

5. Lightweight Portable Security - The Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) distribution boots a thin Linux system from a CD or USB flash drive. It isn't meant to be run from a local hard disk. The intended use for LPS-Public version is to allow safe, public, general-purpose Web browsing and LPS-Remote Access is only for accessing internal networks. Since the system allows no traces of activity or browsing history, administrators must pay strict attention to limit where LPS users may browse by means of filtering through a proxy server. Users should reboot between sessions to clear any potential malware or browser hijacking that took place during previous sessions. LPS provides secure browsing during banking transactions or other security-sensitive sessions.

6. Live Hacking DVD - This live DVD distribution is exactly what it sounds like: An ethical hacker's playground (workbench). There is also a CD version (Live Hacking CD). The DVD comes with a fully graphical desktop interface (GNOME) and the CD version is command line only. The CD version is as powerful as its graphical counterpart because most of the hacker tools are command line. The Live Hacking system requirements are minimal. You can use an old Pentium III or IV class system and as little as 512 MB RAM, although the developers recommend 1 GB RAM. To download and use the Live Hacking distribution, you must accept the Terms and Conditions which state that the tools are for ethical hacking only.

7. EnGarde Secure Linux - EnGarde Linux is a Linux server distribution that is secure and perfect for use as an Internet server. It features intrusion detection, simple administration, secure network services, built-in alerts, Web services, DNS services, firewall, mail services and access to the Guardian Digital Support Network (GDSN). The GDSN provides free access to all system and security updates. EnGarde Regularly scheduled updates the first Tuesday of every month. Try before you buy with a downloadable live CD version of EnGarde.

8. NetSecL - NetSecL is an OpenSUSE-based distribution that features GrSecurity, chroot hardening, auditing, and includes penetration testing software. It is versatile enough to be used as a desktop, server, or ethical hacking system. It is a live DVD but you can also install it to a hard disk. GrSecurity is an independent suite of security enhancements used by ISPs, hosting companies, and projects like NetSecL. Other tools included with NetSecL are Amap, Ettercap, Hydra, Kismet, Nessus, Nmap, Metasploit, and PADS.

9. SmoothWall Express - The SmoothWall Open Source project began in 2000 and continues to be an excellent business firewall solution. SmoothWall Express (SWX) is a security-hardened GNU/Linux operating system with a simple to use web interface. The primary goals of the SWX project are to create and maintain a simple firewall system, support a variety of hardware, work with multiple connection methods, run on inexpensive and commodity hardware, develop a supportive user community and support the project via the commercial venture SmoothWall Limited. SmoothWall Limited manufactures several different SmoothWall hardware security appliances suitable for networks of all sizes.

10. Openwall GNU/Linux - Openwall GNU/Linux (OWL) is a small, security-enhanced distribution suitable for virtual appliances, hardware appliances, and physical servers. OWL is binary compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. OWL is also a distribution used by many security professionals for security penetration testing and password cracking. Openwall also develops other security products such as the famous John the Ripper password crack utility, phpass, passwdqc, and tcb.

11. Vyatta - Vyatta is a commercial security appliance vendor delivering appliances for every network class including cloud architectures. Included in Vyatta's product line-up is the Vyatta virtual network appliance. Vyatta virtual appliances work in VMware, Xen, XenServer, and KVM environments. The virtual security appliance includes a stateful firewall, IPSec and SSL-based VPN, intrusion detection, filtering, dynamic routing and router-based services such as NAT, DHCP and is IPv6-ready.